What do George Washington, Anne Frank and actress Emma Watson have in common? They all tapped into the many benefits of keeping a journal.1-3 Journaling is a way to transfer your thoughts and feelings from your mind to the page. Because journals are (usually) meant to be kept private, they provide a safe, judgment-free place to explore your innermost thoughts.
If you used to keep a diary but stopped writing in it, or if you’ve never tried journaling before, you’re missing out on its potential benefits. Journaling for students is particularly beneficial, as it offers stress relief and cognitive perks. Plus, it’s free and easy to get started!
Why Journaling Is Important
There are many benefits of keeping a daily journal or even a weekly journal. It can help you clarify your goals and learn more about yourself, for example. Journaling for students is especially helpful, and it only takes a few minutes each day.
Journaling for Students Is a Great Stress Relief Tool
College is an incredibly rewarding experience for young adults, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be stressful from time to time. Freshmen in particular might be a little surprised by the increase in the amount of work they are expected to do in college compared to high school. Plus, you’re on your own for the first time, and as a young adult, you’re assuming greater responsibility over your own life.
It can get a little overwhelming at times, and some college students may experience stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Journaling is a helpful way to address all three of these issues.4 Here’s a quick breakdown of why journaling is important for your mental health and how it can help you cope with stress.
Journaling can help you:
- Identify negative thought patterns and behaviors
- Find the likely culprits for those negative issues
- Prioritize your concerns and problems
- Turn negative thought patterns into positive self-talk
- Organize your thoughts and feelings so that you can more easily identify which stress management tactics work for you and what doesn’t
To get the most out of journaling for stress relief, take a few minutes to read over what you wrote during previous journaling sessions. Look for trends and patterns, and then work on identifying the underlying causes of your problems. You can then begin working toward solutions and developing positive thought patterns and behaviors.
Journaling Keeps Your Mind Sharp
You’re likely putting in some long hours studying and working on your class assignments. But everyone needs a break now and then to refresh their mind and rejuvenate their spirit. Journaling offers unique benefits for your mind.
You can write in your journal to give your mind a break from academics, but at the same time, journaling will benefit your cognitive abilities. One study found that journaling can benefit a person’s working memory.5 Another discovered that the physical act of writing on paper (instead of on a laptop) prompts more brain activity and better memory recall, likely due to journaling’s unique reliance on the combination of complex, tactile and spatial information.6
Journaling can benefit your academic progress in ways beyond simply improving your memory. One study found that keeping a journal can be an effective way to boost your critical thinking skills.7 Another determined that students who begin journaling enjoy a higher grade point average.8
Journaling Improves Your Communication Skills
There are very few career paths in which communication skills are not important. In fact, the ability to communicate both verbally and in writing is one of the things that employers will consider when making hiring decisions. Journaling is a great way to give yourself an edge by improving your communication skills.
You might think that journaling will only improve your written communication skills, and indeed, it can certainly help with this. But because journaling also helps you learn how to organize your thoughts better, it can even give you a boost with your verbal communication skills.
Quick Tips for Getting Started With Journaling
If you’ve never kept a diary before, you might have a little trouble getting started with the process. What should you write about? How exactly should you go about journaling?
There’s no one “right way” to start journaling. Instead, you may need to experiment a bit to figure out which approach is best suited to your personality and needs. Here are a few quick tips to help you get started.
- Figure out which type of journal you want to keep (see below).
- Start small. If you’re staring at a blank page and unsure of how to get started, grab a small notepad instead and start with just a few sentences per day until you feel confident enough to switch to a larger notebook.
- Having a goal for your journaling activities is not a requirement, but you may wish to identify one or more goals. Examples of goals can include: to develop a more positive mindset, to relieve stress, to have a little “me” time or to figure out your path in life.
- Choose a specific time of the day to work on your journal. You may want to jot down a few notes first thing in the morning or you might prefer to do your journaling in the evening so that you can reflect on your day.
Types of Journaling Approaches To Try
There is more than one way to approach journaling. In fact, there are dozens of types of journals that you might work on. Here are a few examples.
- Stream of consciousness journaling: This approach has no identifiable goal, such as to relieve stress or to retain academic information better. Instead, you’ll simply put pen to paper and write whatever comes to your mind. Think of it as a “brain dump.”
- Bullet journaling: If you want to use journaling to organize your thoughts and life activities, bullet journaling could be the right choice for you. As the name suggests, you can ditch complete sentences and just stick with bullet points. Use bullet journaling to make lists about your goals, your progress toward those goals, daily activities and events.
- Gratitude journaling: If the mental health benefits of journaling are what appeals to you the most, try gratitude journaling. Write down what you’re thankful for each day, and try to think of different things each day. The things you’re grateful for can range from the significant (e.g. your family) to the relatively minor (e.g. having a good hair day).
- Double-entry journaling: If you find that you’re having trouble connecting to your innermost thoughts and feelings, but want to, try double-entry journaling. Write down a concept, problem, concern or even a phrase on the left-hand side of the page. On the right-hand side, write down your thoughts and feelings about it.
- Reflective journaling: This is often considered the “classic” approach to writing a journal. You’ll use your journal to reflect upon your life, emotions, deep thoughts, hopes and dreams, fears and worries. Reflective journaling can be highly therapeutic, and it can help you get to know yourself better and figure out what you want out of life.
At Grand Canyon University, our faculty and support staff members are committed to your success and wellness. The Student Success Center offers a number of programs and resources designed to enrich your collegiate experience and help you thrive — from our Explore More sessions to our study abroad opportunities. While you’re making plans for the next chapter in your academic journey, you can complete the "get started" form on this page to learn more about joining GCU's dynamic learning community.
1 Mount Vernon, The Journal of Major George Washington in August 2022.
2 Anne Frank House, The Diary in August 2022.
4 University of Rochester Medical Center, Journaling for Mental Health in August 2022.
5 American Psychological Association, A new reason for keeping a diary in August 2022.
6 Science Daily, Study shows stronger brain activity after writing on paper than on tablet or smartphone in August 2022.
7 Journal of Nursing Education, Reflective Journaling for Critical Thinking Development in Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Students in August 2022.
8 Cambridge University Press, Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing in August 2022.
Approved by the Manager of the Office of Student Care on Nov. 11, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.